By Dr. Nancy Brune

 

As has been noted, the world’s population is expected to increase to 8 billion by 2025 and 9 billion by 2050. For the first time in our history, 52 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2030, six of out every ten people will live in cities; by 2050, this number will increase to roughly 70 percent of the global population (or 6 billion). By 2030, roughly 450 million people may be living in megacities. The pressures of population growth and urbanization on megacities and their infrastructure may prove quite problematic, particularly as competition for scarce natural resources becomes more intense. For instance, cities account for 70 percent of global energy use.

In addition, research indicates that some of the world’s megacities may be particularly vulnerable to climate change. In particular, ports, which constitute more than half the world’s largest cities, are at “increasing risk from severe storm-surge flooding, damage from high storm winds, rising and warming global seas and local land subsidence.“ A 2005 OECD environmental report estimates the exposure of the world’s largest port cities to coastal flooding and damage due to high winds. The analysis finds that roughly 40 million people (about ten percent of the total port city population in the largest 136 port cities) and US$3 trillion in assets are exposed to these once in a century floods. By 2070, due to the “combined effects of climate change, subsidence, population growth and urbanization,” 150 million people living in port cities and US$35 trillion in assets (9 percent of estimated global GDP) may be vulnerable to these low frequency (once in 100 years), high impact events.

Based on the OECD study data, Table 1 lists the top ten most vulnerable port cities by population (2070 estimates). Information on current population at risk, projected assets at risk, and the 2025 megacity ranking is also included.В  As indicated, five of the top ten port cities facing greatest exposure (by projected population) to these disastrous (low frequency, high impact) floods are also projected megacities. For comparative purposes, OECD analysis indicates that while Tokyo is projected to be the biggest megacity with a projected population of 35 million (2025), only 2.5 million individuals face exposure to these devastating floods.

Table 1. Largest Port Cities Facing Greatest Exposure (by population) to 1-in-100 year floods and their Megacity Ranking*

Port City

Population

2005

(million)

В Population 2005

В at Risk

(million)

Population 2070 at Risk

(million)

Estimated Damage

2070

(US$ trillion)

2025 Megacity Ranking

1 Kolkata, India

14.2

1.9

14.0

1.9

#8

2. Mumbai, India

18.1

2.8

11.4

1.6

#2

3 Dhaka, Bangladesh

12.4

.84

11.1

.54

#4

4 Guangzhou-Guangdong, China

8.4

2.7

10.3

3.3

#21

5 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

5.0

1.9

9.2

.65

6 Shanghai, China

14.5

2.4

5.5

1.8

#9

7 Bangkok, Thailand

6.6

.91

5.1

1.1

8 Yangon, Burma

4.1

.51

5.0

.17

9 Miami, FL, U.S.

5.4

2.0

4.8

3.5

10 Hai Phong, Vietnam

1.9

.79

4.7

.33

Population estimates are for metropolitan area.

Climate change is expected to have devastating impacts on the people, infrastructure and economies of these megacities that are located near bodies of water. This set of megacities may face increasing challenges as climate induced migration forces greater numbers of individuals to flock to these already overflowing, densely populated megacities which are physically constrained by their water borders. As noted in a recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report, in 2010-11, 42 million people in Asia were displaced by “extreme” weather. Megacities, included Dhaka, Ho Chi Minh City, Guangzhou, Kolkata, and Mumbai, are likely destinations for these displaced individuals. The majority of climate displaced migrants are likely to be poorer and less skilled than their urban counterparts.

Already we have an indication of the devastating economic impact of climate change and flooding in some of these large port cities. For example, Ho Chi Minh City, on the Saigon River, just north of the Mekong, is Vietnam’s largest city and accounts for over one-fifth of the country’s economy.  The ADB has warned that if appropriate planning measures are not adopted to address flooding issues, more than 70 percent of the city could be affected by “extreme flooding” by 2050. In Thailand last year, flooding around Bangkok resulted in thecountry’s largest quarterly GDP contraction (9 percent year on year) since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998 and resulted in US$46 billion in damage.

The projected economic cost of such low-frequency, high impact climate related events in these coastal megacities could exacerbate income inequalities (which are more extreme in cities), strain access to and availability of resources, and undermine recent progress lifting millions of individuals in the developing world out of poverty. The combined effect of these could result in these megacities serving as cauldrons for revolution. One only has to look at the Arab Spring to remember what can happen when large masses of disillusioned, suffering, economically disadvantaged people gather in the centers of densely populated urban areas. Would the Arab Spring have occurred if Tunisian market vendor Mohamed Bouazizi had immolated himself in the rural countryside?

As Howard Passell noted earlier this week, good resource management could help mega-ports avoid a future scenario of unrest, violence and conflict between the haves and the have-nots. Governments need to consider climate change and resource availability issues when planning and designing management strategies.

In particular, a greater emphasis must be placed on infrastructure planning, in light of increased demand and climate change. Specific policies to address and improve the resiliency of infrastructure systems should be included in planning and management policies. As the ADB and others have suggested, governments should craft ‘smart growth-like’ policies that include limiting or relocating urban and industrial /commercial expansion and encourage settlement in less vulnerable areas. New zoning and urban settlement laws and policies are needed. This is harder than might be expected. For example, Vietnam’s central and provincial governments have programs to address climate change but Ho Chi Minh City “still does not have the capacity to analyze and control development.”

One way to assist effective infrastructure planning in light of increasing demand, resource scarcity and climate change is to establish and fund a Global Infrastructure Bank. The idea of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank was proposed in the U.S. in 2007 by U.S. Senators Christopher Dodd and Chuck Hagel to address theВ estimated US$1.6 trillion infrastructure gapВ in the U.S. Since then, others have proposed various iterations of a National Infrastructure Bank (in 2011, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Kerry proposed the American Infrastructure Financing Authority). President Obama has also echoed the need to establish a national infrastructure bank.

While the World Bank and regional development banks fund infrastructure projects (e.g. Three Gorges Dam), and have established climate fund programs (e.g. the ADB is funding a $2.5 million national climate change program in Vietnam) to help countries adapt to climate change, these financial institutions also fund many other programs in the areas of education, health and agriculture. Resources could be more efficiently leveraged and directed under the roof of a Global Infrastructure Bank with a single focus.

More importantly, another advantage of a single Global Infrastructure Bank is that it could require funded infrastructure projects, both new and improvements of current systems, to address (and promote) smart growth issues. The Global Infrastructure Bank professionals should also require projects to have specific design and operational features that improve the resilience of the system to climate change impacts. Funded by both private and public actors, the Global Infrastructure Bank could provide technical assistance and promote capacity building in the focused areas of smart development and enhanced resiliency of urban infrastructure systems to the impacts of climate change.

The world’s megacities face a number of challenges – climate change, natural rural-urban migration, climate induced migration, resource scarcity, and population growth. It is widely expected that the impact of climate change and increased urbanization is most likely to manifest itself in pressures on the urban infrastructure systems – i.e. lack of housing, increased demand for energy from an old grid, and inadequate water and sewage systems. Service delivery challenges and the potential inequalities in access to and quality of services may exacerbate socio-economic and political tensions. A Global Infrastructure Bank that funds smart, resilient infrastructure for climate-affected megacities might be the most effective resource for governments who want to avoid megacities becoming cauldrons of revolution and unrest.

 

Dr. Nancy Brune, a political economist, is a Non Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for A New American Security where she works on issues of natural security, the water-energy-security nexus, and food security.